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Three years since the last Mission Impossible film, Operation Surma is a new installment in the series. Yet while the story is new, it is far from original. The story unfolds when an evil mastermind comes into the control of a computer virus called Ice Worm that can infiltrate even the most advanced security systems, in addition to a biological virus that can annihilate thousands of innocent civilians, and the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) is sent to diffuse the problem. At the forefront of this team is IMF's top elite agent, Ethan Hunt, as well as four other agents at his disposal. Up against an opponent with access to IMF's top secret Intel, Ethan and his team must track down those behind the sabotage before it's too late. Toss in a few plot twists with a hint of political corruption, and even still, the story comes out a tad bland.
Although MIOS is licensed by Paramount Pictures, Tom Cruise's videogame counterpart and likeness is still nowhere to be found. While some may believe that utilizing his image would help market the game better, MIOS manages to stand on its own feet without Mr. Cruise. On the other hand though, it's difficult to imagine anyone else playing the role of IMF's best hacker, Luther Stickell, other than Ving Rhames. Featuring a near-perfect replication of his facial features, as well as his contribution of his voice talents, Mr. Rhames undoubtedly added a sense of authenticity to the gaming experience. Also lending his talents is John Polson, who reprises his role of IMF's pilot, Billy Baird. New additions to the team include George Spelvin, a master of disguises, and Jasmine Curry, a new recruit to IMF. While the missions revolve around each team member playing their respective part, there are too few moments of interacting with them to create any real sense of character attachment or development.
So while the mission is a team effort, the emphasis and focus is placed on the main character, Ethan Hunt. The camera system in MIOS does a functional job of following Ethan faithfully, and it does fairly well both in indoor and outdoor situations. At times, however, the system becomes quite irksome when it feels like the camera is following too close to Ethan, which makes scanning the area troublesome. There is also an over-the-shoulder view that is available when Ethan uses a gun, so that the crosshairs can be located on the screen. This view also works efficiently, but in terms of targeting an enemy with the crosshairs, the aiming feels a bit sluggish. Therefore, with the sluggish reaction and no auto-aim, strafing and shooting during the heat of a battle can be difficult.
Not that you'll always be shooting it out. Ethan is always prepared with a sack-full of gadgets for every occasion. Among these gadgets are the Micro-cord, electronic lock pick, laser cutter, sonic imager, and an Electronic Warfare Gun. All these items will help Ethan cautiously evade detection, and will be essential to completing the mission. The Micro-cord technology that was made famous in the first Mission: Impossible film plays a big role in MIOS as it is lets Ethan grapple and reach higher objects, as well as being the key to solving certain puzzles. The Electronic Warfare Gun projects a microchip which will help disable cameras, place tracers on objects, and cause an audible distraction to guards. Even though these are high-tech military-grade gadgets, they are reasonably easy to use throughout the game.
The shortcoming in the gadgets department is that each gadget has a set function, meaning that for each predicament Ethan encounters, the correct tool to use will always be obvious. So, therefore, there is rarely a situation where the player will question, Should I use this tool, or that one?¯ or any second guessing, simply because there is only one tool that can complete the task. For example, if Ethan runs into a locked door, the electronic lock pick is the only method of clearing that door, or if he runs into a dead end outdoors, more than likely he will need to use the Micro-cord to continue. This makes the gameplay experience fairly predictable and repetitive.
When Ethan runs low on ammunition, he also has his trusty fisticuffs to depend on. He has a few fighting combinations including a three-hit combo and a running jump kick, that will render his foes unconscious in no time. Since his physical attacks are just as lethal, a good portion of the game could be handled without ever drawing a pistol. It's frequently the easiest and most silent way to dispatch a guard, but the disadvantage is that Ethan can still take damage from gunshots in midst of his attack.
Combat techniques and gadgets play an integral part, but it wouldn't be a Mission: Impossible game without the use of stealth. MIOS borrows the cone-of-vision¯ effect from the Metal Gear Solid series, but tweaks it slightly to make the experience more challenging. Security cameras will always appear on the onscreen map with their rotating vision range, but the map will not register security guards unless Ethan tags them with a tracker via the Electronic Warfare Gun. This means carefully inspecting an area becomes mandatory, or else an unseen enemy might spot Ethan and hit the base alarm, which alerts all guards of a security breach. Yet as terrifying as this is meant to sound, this ordeal is typically handled with ease. In order to disarm the alarm, Ethan must locate an Alarm Control panel and override it within the allotted time before the mission becomes compromised. This can considered a flaw in the experience of MIOS because the AI becomes very forgiving regarding security measures. Ethan can trip an alarm countless times, but as long as he reaches an Alarm Control panel in time, the game resumes its normal operation, and Ethan is scot-free of any penalties.
A new addition to the M: I series, Ethan has the acquired ability to disappear out of sight from an enemy by seeking shelter in the dark, a la Splinter Cell. Once he enters a dark area, a bar on the upper-right of the screen will fill up. When it is entirely full, Ethan is considered invisible to approaching enemies. Also adopted from other stealth games, there is the option to pick up unconscious bodies and hide them out of view in the dark to avoid detection. While this is a nifty addendum, more often than not it is not necessary since the guard in question will most likely be the only one patrolling that area. This again draws emphasis from the necessity of using stealth tactics without compromising the mission as long as he disables the Alarm Control panel in time. Therefore, generally the only ways to jeopardize the mission is to a) not reach the panel in time, b) harm someone integral to the mission, or c) kill Ethan himself.
MIOS encompasses a good combination of stealth and action combat in its five main missions. And while five missions sound paltry, each one has a list of at least five objectives that result in approximately two hours in order to complete each mission. These objectives range from such tasks as hacking a computer, successfully infiltrating a building, and protecting the unarmed. There's also a good wealth of entertaining puzzles such as crossing a room-full of laser wires, and ascending a giant tower protected by devastating turrets. Unfortunately the exciting experience is tainted by being extremely linear. The path from point A to point B is so direct that there is practically never the chance to stray.
The environments are well designed, but half the effect is wasted when the only places Ethan can enter are ones that lead him directly to his objective. There is only one method to reach each goal, one path to reach each goal, and most likely only one tool that is need to get pass the obstacle in front of each goal. This eliminates any necessity to explore, since your required actions to accomplish the objectives are basically hand-fed to the player. This cannot be stressed any stronger: Mission: Impossible , Operation Surma is extensively linear. That kind of restriction severely diminishes the value of the experience. Even Pac-Man had the ability to choose which direction he wanted to go.
As the missions progress, the AI difficulty grows noticeably smarter. Whereas in the first few missions, it's easy to run up to a guard and give him a bruising, the guards towards the final missions will intelligently hide behind cover, and will search for new shelter when Ethan comes increasingly near. There are also a few weapon upgrades during the course of the game, such as a sniper pistol, and an uzi-like firearm, to add spice to the action. In addition, there is a sky-diving mission towards the end that should have been an invigorating experience, but somehow become irritating instead. Combining poor controls and vague objective descriptions made it a videogame experience I would like to soon forget. If sky-diving is anywhere near as frustrating as it is in the MIOS simulation, I can unquestionably scratch that off my to-do list.
One merit that deserves mention is MIOS' organization skills in the save system. When Ethan reaches a location with a save point, the game's save system automatically manages the file by placing it in a list of saves in a sequential order. Ergo, a player can jump back to a previous save anytime to replay a sequence without affecting the rest of the other saves. Gamers that tend to save one game under multiple files to insure that they didn't miss anything during their gameplay will undoubtedly appreciate this system.
Aesthetically, the visuals are on par with what is expected on the Playstation 2. The character models are well animated, especially in Ethan's fluid movements from one action to another. There is also a visual effect that occurs every time Ethan performs a stealth takedown. The camera cuts away to a slow motion view of the action, such as breaking a guard's back, to dramatize the situation. While this is amusing at first, it gets repetitious quickly. Another issue that needs to be noted is that the game lags occasionally, usually during gunfights in large areas.
The sounds of MIOS should be highlighted. The vocal talents in this game are right on target, giving the entire experience a cinematic atmosphere. The rest of the sound effects in the game are generally ambient atmosphere noises, so they typically do not distract the player's attention from the gameplay. There is also an option to use the binoculars to zoom in on a guard to listen in to his pointless ranting. Thankfully, the Mission: Impossible theme isn't overused in the game, but then again, I believe most videogamers will agree that the M:I theme, the James Bond theme, the Spy Hunter theme, and the Metal Gear theme all eventually start to sound alike after a while.
Once MIOS is completed, there is nary a reason to return for a second helping. Since the gameplay is 99.9% linear, practically each and every experience will be similar. There is the option of two alternate difficulties of easy¯ and impossible,¯ but if the player applies the correct amount of stealth the first play-through, the second one will just be as challenging. An option that Paradigm could have explored would have been to give the opportunity for players to be able to control other IMF agents through the missions to gain multiple perspectives. Nevertheless, MIOS only takes a good 10-15 hours to complete, which makes this mission, frankly, not that impossible. (C'mon, I had to put at least one corny joke in here.)
While MIOS delivers its fair share of action, there is hardly enough to write home about. That's why this review has been a fairly neutral review for a fairly neutral gaming experience. It's unmistakable that Atari and Paradigm have created a tremendous improvement over Infogrames' Mission: Impossible on the Nintendo 64, but there's a lingering feeling of an incomplete title when compared to the latest line of videogames. If Paradigm had taken more time to develop a non-linear gameplay experience and improve the light/shadow stealth aspect, I have every bit of faith that it would have been a giant contender in the stealth genre. As it is now, Mission: Impossible , Operation Surma feels quite amateurish compared to other titles that are readily available. It's not exactly the poor man's Splinter Cell,¯ as my co-worker, Matt James, so eloquently described Rogue Ops, but more like a giant training session for Splinter Cell. So if you thought Splinter Cell was too daunting and difficult, or if you are looking to be introduced to the stealth genre, I'd highly recommend giving Operation Surma a try. If you've played enough stealth games to know how to knock out your little brother before he warns your mom, or if you can visually imagine everyone's cone-of-vision so that you can sneak to work late without being noticed (not that I've tried either), I would advise waiting for Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow or Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater which will be released in no time. In the meantime, as long as Atari's duplicating ideas, maybe I should write a letter to them with game suggestions: I'm sure people would play Dig Dug's Pro Skater or Grand Theft Pac-Man.
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